The NHS in Gloucestershire is putting in place the next steps in their preparations as they adapt to the unfolding Covid-19 situation and ensure essential services continue.

Health leaders confirmed that planning and incremental service change is going well and at pace with great support from partner organisations.

They say their approach is designed to ensure that the NHS can make best use of available staff and facilities and provide as much care in the county as possible over the coming weeks.

Chief Executive of Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Deborah Lee said:

“We have made extensive preparations as part of our planning in response to the outbreak. These measures will ensure our hospitals and staff at Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General Hospitals are as well prepared as they possibly can be for the anticipated peak in admissions later this month.

The scale and depth of the steps taken are unprecedented and in making these changes we have adopted many of the best practices already seen in other parts of the country and internationally.

Some of the measures taken include reducing all but cancer and life or limb threatening surgery to free up staff and beds for Covid-19 cases, fundamentally changing the way our wards and medical services work to reduce unnecessary contact between clinicians while wrapping the required care around patients.

We have switched thousands of outpatient appointments to telephone and video conferencing to avoid face to face contact while continuing to provide excellent patient care.

We have also introduced a wide range of staff support and wellbeing programmes providing practical as well as emotional and psychological support to colleagues on the frontline.

Sadly, though, despite these measures many people have and will lose loved ones as a result of the pandemic. It is for them, their families and the many others who rely on us to care for them in their time of need that we will continue to provide our vital frontline services.”

John Trevains, Director of Nursing, Therapies and Quality at Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust, which provides community and mental health services and manages seven community hospitals and five mental health and learning disability inpatient units in the county said:

“Our whole NHS system in Gloucestershire is working in completely different ways, and we’ve introduced significant changes across our community and hospital based services.

For us, this means we’ve been providing a testing service, for patients and staff, we’ve set up additional wards in Stroud and Cirencester Hospitals, we’ve rearranged other wards and we are providing many services differently, either over the telephone or digitally.

Key for us has been ensuring our staff have access to the equipment and information they need to keep our patients safe and well, as well as ensure they themselves are well and able to continue delivering care. This includes, for example, access to childcare advice and mental health support.

“Our colleagues – both clinical and non-clinical – are working in entirely different places and different roles in some cases and we’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated at what is undoubtedly the most challenging time many of us have ever lived through. It’s a huge team effort and I’m proud of our Trust and our partner Trusts for everything we’re doing as a healthcare community.”

The impact of Covid-19 has also had a major impact on GP surgeries in the county as they go the extra mile for patients.

There has been a seismic shift in primary care as GPs and their team adapt rapidly to new ways of working and organise services differently in their surgeries.

This has included a big increase in phone and video consultations and groups of GP surgeries have worked together in local areas to rapidly set up community hubs where they can see patients with potential symptoms of coronavirus.

Clinical Chair of NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and local GP, Dr Andy Seymour said:

“The pressure on surgeries has been huge as they put in place additional measures to keep patients and staff as safe as possible and maintain essential health services for those that need them.

Our practices have had to rapidly adapt to evolving guidance and put changes in place in their surgeries at record speed, whilst ensuring day to day patient care is not compromised.

The tremendous response and outpouring of support from the public for the NHS is recognition of the fact that in their day to day work, teams across the NHS are literally putting their lives on the line to care for others.”

The local community has also played a vital role in NHS preparations. Whether it’s local organisations such as The University of Gloucestershire offering undergraduate nurses or staff accommodation, local businesses and charities donating food and personal care parcels, or communities showing their support for staff by participating in the NHS clap of appreciation, this has been invaluable in helping the NHS to both practically and emotionally prepare.

The NHS has introduced a wide range of staff support and wellbeing programmes providing practical as well as emotional and psychological support to colleagues on the frontline.

For example, accommodation is being provided for those who are isolating from their families while working, free car parking has been introduced at both main hospitals and at other car parks around the county, so key workers can park without any added worry, sanctuary rooms have been set up away from clinical areas and extended on-site catering offers have been put in place together with access to a wide range of wellbeing programmes.